Herbie Hancock - 15/11/08, RFH, LJF

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Performing in front of a sell out crowd on what was the London Jazz Festivals opening weekend, pianist Herbie Hancock unveiled a brand new sextet that initiated what was to be a marathon set, lasting the best part of three hours.

A muscular rendition of the Headhunters Actual Proof found bassist James Genus and young drummer Kendrick Scott in fine form while harmonica player Gregoire Maret was in free flight as his virtuosic solo's ascended to an animated crescendo. An unsuspecting reworking of Speak Like a Child ebbed and flowed around the main theme, which become almost unrecognisable, before the group entered into an improvised reworking of Wayne Shorters V (for Visitor).

A contemporary composition by West African guitarist Lionel Loueke followed, written in 17/4 time and aptly titled, 'Seventeens', followed by a unaccompanied piece from Loueke who shadowed his supple guitar lines with his mesmerising percussive vocals. Then Hancocks turn to take centre stage as he entered into an unaccompanied solo that forged a dreamy sensibility before segueing into the crossover hit Cantaloupe Island. Chameleon was to be the nights grand finale, which saw Hancock lead the sextet through a lengthy call and response exercise brought to life by a New Orleans trumpeter Terence Blanchard.

Throughout the night Hancock constantly asked more of the audience through a whirlwind of contemporary arrangements and improvisations. The pay off was the inclusion of his cross over hits serving as a reminder of the pianists huge commercial accessibility. In a career that has spanned five decades, including his part in Miles Davis ‘second great quintet', Hancock is living proof of an icon of jazz piano, who is still thriving in the modern jazz world.

Review - Nick Wells